Murfreesboro takes steps to divert trash from landfills into new energy-producing venture

By: - May 5, 2023 6:00 am
Murfreesboro Shane McFarland, photographed by John Partipilo at a 2021 meeting with officials from Middle Point Landfill.

Murfreesboro Shane McFarland, photographed by John Partipilo at a 2021 meeting with officials from Middle Point Landfill.

In the midst of prolonged legal disputes with owners of a regional landfill in Rutherford County, Murfreesboro is moving forward with plans to divert its household waste to a new venture that promises to turn trash into energy.

The Murfreesboro City Council on Thursday approved the latest step in its partnership with WasteAway, which has pledged to convert 90% of the waste generated from 50,000 households into useable energy, in the form of coal alternatives and “biogas.”

The council has approved a $2.5 million design and engineering contract for the venture; eventual construction costs are estimated to be $45 million before its target opening date in 2026. The city is expecting to utilize the Middle Point Landfill until then.

“As a city we continue to say there are better ways to handle municipal waste than to bury it,” Mayor Shane McFarland told the Lookout on Thursday.

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McFarland said he is among the city residents who have been negatively impacted by the Middle Point Landfill, a massive operation that accepts household trash from about a third of all 95 Tennessee counties.

The landfill has long been a sore point among nearby residents, like McFarland — who lives less than five miles from the site and, on bad days, can smell it from his home. The city has received more than a 1,000 odor complaints since it added a complaint portal last year. Efforts by Republic Services, the corporate operators of the landfill, to expand have been met with fierce opposition. Ongoing litigation in federal and state court have included allegations that the landfill is responsible for air and water pollution; Middle Point operators, in legal filings, have denied those allegations.

Middle Point operators have said that the landfill has about 5 1/2 years of life left if it does not expand.

“There are two prongs here,” McFarland said. “There’s the lawsuit, which is mostly about operational issues. The second prong is ‘what’s next?'”

The city’s plans call for WastAway’s new operations to be headquartered on 25-acres of land the city already owns in an industrial section of town, where trash pick up trucks will deliver household waste. The process, described by WasteAway, is to first sort the trash with automated equipment to recover recyclable metals, then remove glass, rocks and other unusable materials.  The remaining materials would then be shredded before being subject to pressurized steam and converted to a clean fuel product.

A portion of the resulting product would become a coal alternative that could supplement fuel used in kilns, coal-burning energy plants or other applications, according to the company. Another portion of the fuel produced would be converted to renewable natural gas that could be pumped into existing gas pipelines or used as transportation fuel.

Correction: This story has been updated to more accurately describe the company’s proposed process for handling household waste and the years left at Middle Point.


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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.